As a columnist of note pointed out ten days ago, Newt Gingrich changed the world when he embraced the OWS-inspired notion that the 1% is ruining the country. His attack on Romney's Bain Capital activity and the flap over Romney's effective tax rate of 15% were the hard edges of an argument that Republicans were trying to ignore: The concentration of wealth and power is bad for the country, and bad for average voters and they know it. The lamestream Republican response, that this was an attack on free enterprise, was surprisingly weak and silly. South Carolina voters, the most conservative electorate in the country, didn't buy it. Mitt is now the poster boy for the 1% and that will be a hard label to shake.
The fundamental problem for Romney is that the majority of the Republican Party has never been comfortable with him. Aside from the bump that he got from his neighbors in New Hampshire, he's been stuck around 30% since the campaign began. The reasons are speculative ranging from voter discomfort with his Mormon faith, to the rich-boy image, to his historic support for health care mandates and abortion rights. He is simply not in sync with a party that has swerved to the hard right. If Newt can take sizable slices of the Santorum and Paul camps, he really doesn't need to focus on Romney. Remember the last big moderate/conservative Florida primary, when incumbent moderate Charlie Crist went down to painful defeat at the hands of the Right.
Put aside any personal and political inconsistencies between Old Newt, New Newt and Future Newt. He combined muscular debate performances with a shrewd understanding of what people were actually worried about and romped to victory. Romney now limps into Florida with an almost impossible set of choices. Does he pivot away from a defensive and out-of-touch image as a rich boy who doesn't relate to real people? How? Or does he bet that the weight of money and organization can resuscitate his campaign no matter what he says or looks like?
Newt has the whole litany of problems that have been highlighted for months. And that may be why none of it sticks. It's old news and he, again, was shrewd enough to remember that if you want to be forgiven, you have to ask for forgiveness. But he skates on thin ice, and a Romney victory in Florida, even a narrow one, will restore the smiley face to the Republican establishment.
This leaves Obama to pick up the pieces. However unfairly, he has suffered from a substantial loss of voter confidence and affection. What can save him is an opponent who puts a face on the accusation that republicans are chaotic, reactionary, angry and out of touch.
And all this because Occupy Wall Street changed the vocabulary and ethos of American politics. The 1% versus the 99%, income equality, the privilege and power of the rich have become the canvas on which Democrats and Republicans must paint. The criticism of OWS as not having a program or a focus seems a little out of touch, doesn't it. On to Florida.
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